Most of us as children played the game hide and seek. in the game the person who is “it” counts to a predetermined number while the others hide. Once done counting the person who’s it usually would call out, “come out, come out, wherever you are,” to announce that the search had begun.
Today, October 11, 2013, is the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day. Selecting the first anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, the founders of National Coming Out Day, Rob Eichberg, a founder of the personal growth workshop, The Experience, and Jean O’Leary, then head of National Gay Rights Advocates launched the initiative to celebrate individuals who publicly identify as bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender. Today National Coming Out Day is celebrated by the LGBT community and it’s allies around the world, encouraging LGBT individuals to be open, and public, about their sexual orientation or gender identity to promote understanding in the broader community that LGBT individuals are people they know—family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.
In 1978 California State Senator John Briggs, of Orange County, launched the ballot initiative Proposition 6, which proposed that a public school teacher, teacher’s aide, administrator, or counselor could be fired if the employee was found to have engaged in either (1) “public homosexual activity,” which the initiative defined as an act of homosexual sex which was “not discreet and not practiced in private, whether or not such act, at the time of its commission, constituted a crime,” or (2) “public homosexual conduct,” which the initiative defined as “the advocating, soliciting, imposing, encouraging or promoting of private or public homosexual activity directed at, or likely to come to the attention of, schoolchildren and/or other employees.”
A coalition LGBT leaders, Sally Gearhart Gwen Craig, Bill Kraus,San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, teacher (later president of San Francisco Board of Supervisors) Tom Ammiano, and Hank Wilson mobilized under the slogan “Come out! Come out! Wherever you are!” to defeat the Briggs Initiative. The idea, promoted by the slogan, was that if people only knew that lesbians and gays were not some obscure group of people, but rather people that they knew personally, that the initiative would fail. Thankfully, the initiative did fail with 58 percent of voters rejecting the Briggs’ homophobia.
Ten-years later, National Coming Out Day was established with the same objective as the anti-Briggs Initiative slogan, to encourage LGBT people across the nation to come out of hiding and take dispel the negative stereotypes imposed by narrow-minded bigots like John Briggs.
In October 1987, I was pretty open about my sexual orientation. Having been elected to the Board of Directors of Orange County’s Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center a little more than six-months earlier, I was in the midst of learning how to be an activist, and hiding in a closet was one thing I just wasn’t willing to do any longer.
Today, the 25th anniversary of National Coming Out Day is celebrated in a very different environment than what existed in 1987. Many states provide protections for members of the LGBT community, while others still openly permit discrimination in employment, housing, and a host of other arenas that contribute to misunderstanding, and open acts of hate. Today, we have marriage equality in 13 states, with New Jersey on track due to a recent court ruling to be the 14th. And this year the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Defense of Marriage Act, prohibiting federal recognition of marriage rights granted to lesbian and gay couples, was unconstitutional. While progress has been made, until all LGBT Americans can enjoy the same legal protections against discrimination, National Coming Out Day is still relevant.
With that in mind, I encourage all LGBT individuals, and their allies, to kick open the closet door and come out, wherever you are. Be open about who you are, and your belief in freedom and equality for all.